The day didn't start out very cold. In fact, the first twenty five kilometers of our trek east were just beautiful; much flatter than I expected they would be too! We cruised through non-stop civilization with huge grins plastered on our faces for most of the morning. Still enamored by the novelty of being in Italy again, the cafes, pastry shops, and even signs in Italian made us happy. I listened to my Putumayo "Italian Cafe" album as we rode for a double dose of Italianness.
And then, somehow, the mountains sneakily rose before us and the climbing began. It wasn't difficult and we were in very good spirits as we slowly pedaled up the winding roads. The higher we ascended, the more relaxing it became. As we quietly churned along we began to notice the birds chirping, the way the sun streamed through the clouds, and the way it gave a twinkling sheen to the green grass and olive trees. Inspired, we stopped to take some photos (me) and do some recording (tyler).
While I was busily preparing another of my flower hours, Tyler captured the racket of a nearby farm:
Shortly after our photo/audio session, the sun, which had been our constant and welcome companion for the entire morning, finally succumbed to a sky packed with grey clouds. Continuing on, a construction worker we passed looked at us strangely. We were bundled up in many, many layers, our faces covered like ninjas in our Tunisian scarves. The man pointed in the direction we were headed and informed us: "it's cold over there!" This made us smile and we thanked him for his sage warning, reminded of a woman in France who had kindly let us know we were cycling in the rain.
During our ride we passed several wind farms. At one point, we took a break so Tyler could hike over for a close-up picture. His photos didn't turn out but the strange menagerie he encountered along the way did! Check out this Grey Crowned Crane!
We also stopped briefly to capture the woosh-wooshing sound that accompanied the second half of our ride today. Tyler is really enjoying his field recorder! I think he looks like a ghost buster wandering around listening to things with it.
After forty kilometers, we weren't tired so much as cold. When we saw an old abandoned villa which would, at the very least, provide some shelter from chilling wind, we decided to call it a (short) day. Crumbling and partially consumed by nature, it was the stuff of The Secret Garden or Great Expectations, a fairy tale or a horror story at least!
We explored the rooms and went upstairs, hoping that the floors wouldn't collapse underfoot. There was a bramble-filled garden in the back, and one of the rooms in front was stained black from years of soot building up in the fireplace. The upstairs had striking views of the mountains beyond. We briefly considered pushing our bikes up what remained of the stairs in order to camp there. In the end, we opted for a front room on the main floor, right by the door (lest any ghosties resent our habitation!).
In the middle of our chosen room there was a rusted pile of mattress springs. They'd survived long beyond the cushion which had decomposed into dirt around them. Tyler dragged the decrepit mess out of the way to erect our tent while I began dinner.
As we worked, we stamped our feet to keep them warm and our teeth chattered as we talked about the house and wondered who had lived here. How many babies had been born in these walls? How many people had died peacefully in their beds in the rooms around us? Had there been servants, living in the cold attic, lighting fires and cooking meals for a wealthy family?
With all of these questions in mind, I sliced potatoes for dinner, stopping every few cuts to breathe warm air on my freezing fingers. It was cold and I was in the mood for something hearty. The French Alpine dish of "tartiflette" came to mind. This version of scalloped potatoes, featuring heavily in the butter, cheese, cream, and meat department would be perfect for our mountain night.
When the slicing was done, I sprinkled the potatoes generously with salt and lots of black pepper. A massive pat of butter (three or four tablespoons) topped it off. Then, I set it on our stove, stirring occasionally to sautee. While it was cooking, I chopped half an onion and broke up most of our asiago cheese into small pieces for the dish. Rounding everything out were thin slices of Speck, a delicious smoked Tyrolean meat that we had purchased earlier in the day.
When the potatoes were almost soft, I added the onions, cheese and meat, stirring until the asiago was melted. Then, I put the lid on and left it for about five minutes until the bottom layer was crispy and golden, reminiscent of how it would have been on top if it had been baked. It was really, really good. In the midst of our voracious consumption, we realized we'd forgotten to take pictures. Oh well!
Satiated, we wrapped our scarves around our heads (we now truly understand why people used to wear kerchiefs and night caps to bed—it was probably FREEZING!) and dove under the the sleeping bag, laughing and flipping around like fish out of water to generate a bit of heat. I fell asleep at the early hour 7:00. Tyler stayed up programming until 11.
More chilly mountain climbing tomorrow!